The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.
::applause:: Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you. I understand there is a sign in the audience that once again says “what’s the secret word for tonight?” The secret word for tonight is: ::sound of toy laser guns::. Now, let’s get serious, ladies and gentlemen. I know you came here to see really fine performances by a really fine modern music ensemble conducted by a really fine conductor. And here comes the fine conductor now: Peter Rundel, ladies and gentlemen!
And if you feel like throwing underpants onto the stage, put ’em over there.
The first thing the liner notes of Zappa’s The Yellow Shark discuss is the genesis of the project’s unlikely name. It emerged from a piece of art an L.A. artist had mailed to Zappa in 1988, a surfboard carved into a shark that had, apparently by the bloodied mouth, been caught. Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser, Manager of the Ensemble Modern at the time, latched onto the object.
…For me it was completely clear that it must become the symbol of our event, of our tour! Because the yellow shark, he’s so pregnant with some of Frank’s characteristics. He’s very hard and a little poison, but on the other hand, he’s very friendly and charming. Two things which Frank can be very often: poison for bad people, charming for good ones! Of course, also it’s such a good logo.”
Page 140 of The Real Frank Zappa Book has one of my most favorite Frank Zappa ruminations of all time, ever. It says:
The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively—because, without this humble appliance, you can’t know where The Art stops and The Real World begins.
You have to put a ‘box’ around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?
The frame. Context. Naming things. In his family, Zappa was the namer of things, and, quite nefariously, of the people he brought into the world. Yes, he named her “Moon Unit,” get over it. For the record, Zappa addressed this directly on Arsenio Hall in February 1989: “Unit” is about Zappa’s family values, everybody. Get over it.
So how appropriate and synergistic was it that Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser saw this ridiculous sculpture, he was struck by it and adopted it as the frame? The Yellow Shark. It’s perfect, because it lives right in the middle of the Venn diagram of all the places this music can live. Some of these pieces are incredibly straightforward. Others are laugh-out-loud farce. While the rest of the pieces, in fact, most of the pieces, are abstract and challenging.
Sorta like a yellow shark carved out of a surfboard. I guess. Either way, regardless, whatever. The yellow shark is the frame.
We’ll start listening tomorrow, and I’ll write down some observations of my own as we go (so much for dancing about architecture) and please, leave comments if you like. Any writing I do here is by no means a conclusion. I have only scratched the surface, and I am well aware of it. The answer to the question down there is steam, by the way. So please. Discuss.
In the meantime, you can warm up with this: The Perfect Stranger. (Wiki is here.)